When you fly on an airplane, the flight attendant instructs you to put your oxygen mask on first, before helping others because if you run out of oxygen, you can’t help anyone else with their oxygen mask.
As parents and care givers of children we must heed this call. Before you will be helping the children cope with the impact of the tragic and traumatic events that this nation is experiencing, you must ensure that you will not pass out from lack of oxygen.
Children can’t be fooled.
You can’t get away with pretending that everything is alright and keep going as if nothing happened. Children pick up on the non-verbal right away and will only be confused by the inconsistency between what you say with words and how you communicate non-verbally.
The support of the adults in their environment will make the difference for the children between being overwhelmed and potentially developing long term problems or learning how to cope and develop lifelong skills. Parents and care givers can restore the children’s sense of security by modeling calm and in-control behavior. This can only be achieved if you are aware of how the events are impacting on you.
Here are things you can do to help yourself become a help to your children.
1. Identify an adult support system; family friends, professionals.
2. Don’t neglect your physical health:
Don’t get dehydrated.
Don’t get sleep deprived.
Don’t over or under eat.
3. Try to maintain your daily routines as much as possible.
4. Take part in rituals that are meaningful to you to express and communicate your experience, that don’t involve the children.
For the children:
5. Be aware of, but not forced with, your tone of voice and body language when engaging with the children.
6. When you give the children opportunities to talk and ask questions, be there for them; meet them at their needs.
7. Don’t flood them with too much information or try to conceal or keep secrets.
8. Don’t interpret what they do or say through your adult eyes or ears.
For both of you:
Before things get to a point where you cannot cope on your own, seek professional help.
And last, but certainly not least, remember to breathe.